Arc The Lad
Published by Working Designs
Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: An early PS1-era Tactical RPG, this quick and easy game is a far cry from later entries, but a good introduction to the sub-genre for new players.

Arc The Lad is something of a Playstation oddity. An early release for the Playstation in Japan, it never saw release in the United States until 2002 as a part of the Arc The Lad Collection. This is a shame, because it is at least trying something innovative, but games like Final Fantasy Tactics had already surpassed it when it was released in the west.
The game follows eponymous hero Arc and his allies as they searches for a, well an ark containing the power to either cause or prevent the end of the world. It’s all fairly stock fantasy RPG stuff, but it hits all the bases well. Being from the early days of the PS1, it uses 16-bit sprites with a few shiny polygonal effects thrown in here and there. Aside from a few short FMV transitions, Arc The Lad feels like it could have been a Super Nintendo release.
The combat is all turn-based strategy with a three-quarters overhead perspective. Character speed determines order, and each character levels up individually. This works out mostly well, but by the end of the game, my faster characters were many levels ahead of the slower ones. The overall campaign is short, but there are little side-quests to do in each town that pad out the length, including a huge multi-floor dungeon that has to be completed in one go. These aspects don’t feel particularly groundbreaking, but they’re handled well enough.
What I find most interesting about the game might be its biggest flaw. This is a short game, taking only about ten hours to complete everything. It also ends on a cliffhanger. The ancient evil returns, and Arc is powered up to face it, but we’re left with our heroes splitting up and preparing rather than getting that final dungeon. Now that the series is finished, that break feels more like the first part of a fantasy trilogy than a complete game, but I imagine the disappointment of getting merely a chapter rather than a full game. It feels like an interesting design choice today, though, and the cheaper price for the game on the Playstation store takes away the sting a bit.
Arc The Lad is an interesting little corner of video game history. It is available digitally for PS3 and PS Vita from the Playstation store. If you’re a hardcore collector and have $150 to spare, you could also hunt down the original PS1 collection.

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